Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Special Opportunities to Pray with us this Great Fast


As we begin this Fast, we'd like to share some upcoming opportunities for you to join us in prayer. 

Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts: We have this liturgy in our monastery chapel each Wednesday and Friday during the Great Fast at 3:00. Please check our Liturgy Schedule tab to be sure. We'd love to have you join us. 

Daily Prayer: All are welcome to join us for any of our prayer. Please see our Great Fast Schedule 2024 for the times of each service, and please note that you may want to call ahead just to be sure we haven't had to change our schedule that day. 

The Great Canon of Saint Andrew of Crete: Join the nuns of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery for a special Lenten service, the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, on Thursday, March 14, at St. Joseph Byzantine Catholic Church, 8111 Brecksville Rd, Brecksville, Ohio. This powerful service of repentance includes beautiful melodies, plentiful Scriptural and spiritual nourishment, hundreds of prostrations, and the moving life story of the penitent St. Mary of Egypt. The evening will also be a great opportunity for the Mystery of Holy Repentance (Confession) and to venerate a relic of St. Mary of Egypt. Please bring a fasting-friendly potluck dish to share (no meat, dairy, eggs or fish) if you join us for dinner at 4:30-5:30 p.m. in the hall below the church. The Canon will begin at 5:30 p.m. and end at about 9:00 p.m. All are invited to come for part or all of the Canon, even if you are not physically able to participate in the prostrations.

Bridegroom Matins: We invite you to join us for Bridegroom Matins, our patronal commemoration, on Wednesday, March 27, at 9:00 a.m. in our monastery chapel. We are looking forward to praying this service, which is so important to our monastery, with Bishop Robert for the first time. The readings and hymns of this service help us embrace a spirit of watchfulness and vigilance as we enter into the commemoration of Christ's passion, death, and resurrection in the following days. This year, we will not be having a breakfast after Bridegroom Matins, but all are welcome to spend time praying in the chapel afterwards. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

New Weekly Videos from Mother Natalia


Recently, Matt Fradd asked Mother Natalia to create weekly videos for his show Pints with Aquinas. After some discernment, waiting until a good time, and then a full day of setting up a nice place for her to record undisturbed, we are excited that this weekly segment begins today! We hope that the fruits of our monastic life which Mother Natalia shares in the videos will be a blessing for those who watch.  

In this first video, Mother Natalia talks about the Feast of Theophany and bringing our shame into the light of Christ. 

A new 10 to 20-minute-long video will be posted on the Pints with Aquinas YouTube channel (linked above) every Sunday. 

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Mother Cecilia's Institution as our Hegumena


On Sunday, December 31st, 2023, Mother Cecilia was officially instituted as our hegumena. Below are some of her reflections on the day of the institution as well as the meaning behind the design of her staff. 

May God grant Mother Cecilia many blessed years as our shepherdess! 

About the Significance of Today’s Date

I suggested today’s date to Bishop Robert as a possibility for my institution as hegumena because it is both the leave-taking of the feast of the Nativity (the Nativity having a lot of significance to me in my spiritual life) and because today, the Sunday after the Nativity, is the Byzantine feast of St. Joseph, the patron of my home parish. The Lord, however, had even more reasons in mind.

Recently, when I prayed and asked about the significance of the day, what immediately came to mind was that today is not only the feast of St. Joseph, but also of King David and St. James the Brother of the Lord (the day commemorates these important people in the family of Jesus). I asked what their significance is for this day. And I immediately understood: they are all shepherds, just like I am becoming! And they had shepherd’s staffs, just like I am receiving from the hand of the shepherd of our eparchy! David was literally a shepherd, and also became the king and shepherd of Israel. St. Joseph’s staff bloomed as a sign that he was to be chosen as the betrothed of Mary, and he was the shepherd of the Holy Family, protecting them and leading them to Egypt and back. And St. James was the first bishop of Jerusalem, with his bishop’s staff signifying that a bishop is a shepherd of the Church.

About the Design of My Staff

My staff was carved by Kyle Rosser, seminarian for the Diocese of Cleveland. I’m really grateful for his willingness to take on this project, and for his prayerful work. I sketched a design, and he turned it into a carving. I’d like to share with you the meaning behind the design (and the Lord will probably keep showing me His meanings!).

The first line of Psalm 22(23) is carved into the center of the design: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Even though this staff is being handed to me as a symbol of the protection, care and guidance that I must give to this monastic flock, it is really the Lord’s staff—the staff of the Good Shepherd. He is shepherding me as I shepherd, and shepherding through and with me.

This first line of the psalm also signifies for me the entire psalm, one of my favorites. The symbols carved into the staff represent parts of the psalm. The chalice signifies for me the line, “My cup overflows,” or, in the Septuagint, “Your cup inebriates me like the best wine.” I see myself as the cup, and the wine as the love of God (which is really God Himself). I feel called to consent to being empty so that God can fill me with Himself, and to focus most especially in my spiritual life to letting myself be loved. I believe that letting myself be loved is what God truly most desires, because this is why He made us, to love us. And I believe that letting myself be loved is the most important step in loving others, because we need His love with which to love, and in this way, “my cup overflows.” I believe that even as hegumena, my first and most important call is to let myself be loved.

The branch behind the chalice is an olive branch, and the staff is also carved out of olive wood. This symbol signifies oil, and refers to the line, “You anoint my head with oil.” Oil is used in Scripture and the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) in connection with the descent of the Holy Spirit. Kings were anointed with oil, and Christians are also anointed, chosen by God for Himself and for a special mission. Although a hegumena is not anointed with oil in the institution service, she is chosen by the Holy Spirit, and is called to “anoint” others with the other purpose of oil: healing.

Wine and oil…these are the medicines used by the Good Samaritan on the wounds of the man beaten by robbers. Wine to sanitize and oil to heal. I pray that the Lord bring healing to each of us, in the monastery and beyond, beaten by the robbers—the demons, and left half-dead by our passions. I desire to do my part to help Him bring about this healing—healing, which at its deepest level, means communion with the God who is love. This is why we nuns are in the monastery, and why each person was created. By looking at my staff, may I remember.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Christ is Born!

Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

Wishing you all a merry and blessed Christmas from all of us at Christ the Bridegroom Monastery. May we all find a place around the cave in Bethlehem and meet Christ there in this festive period. 

"I see a strange and marvelous mystery: heaven is a cave, the cherubic throne a virgin; the manger has become the place in which Christ the incomprehensible God lies down. Let us praise him and extol him." -Irmos of the Nativity 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Watch and Read More about "The Light of His Eyes"

Recently, Mother Iliana was interviewed by Matt Fradd on his show "Pints with Aquinas." Among other things in this long-form interview, she talks about her new book, The Light of His Eyes. You can find the video of the interview here

To read more about her book, you can check out this article in the National Catholic Register, "Never Forget: God Is Your Loving Father, and He Thinks You're Worth Dying For."

We have been really blessed to hear how Mother Iliana's book is touching so many people's lives! 

Monday, November 20, 2023

“A Man of Trust” -- Father Vasyl Lonchyna

 We'd like to share with you the story of the life of our very own, Mother Iliana's, great-grandfather, Father Vasyl Lonchyna, who was martyred for the faith on November 21st, 1946. Recently, his story was translated into English by Christine Gilbert, and so we are blessed to be able to share his story with you.

He was born on February 1, 1886, in the family of a wojt* in the village of Derniv in the Lviv region. He finished German gymnasium and Theological faculty of the Lviv University. In 1912, he got married (in marriage he had three children) and was ordained a priest. Until 1915, he was parochial vicar in the village of  Hlyniany (Lviv region). After that, he labored in the church of St. Paraskeva and its daughter church of St. Nicholas, both in Lviv.  He was a prisoner of  Thalerhof. He was very active in church ministry. Father Lonchyna was imprisoned on October 22, 1945, and in the spring of 1946 he was condemned to ten years  imprisonment and was sent to a camp in the Donetsk region. There, after  a brutal beating during an interrogation, he died on November 21, 1946.

Humble and gentle by nature, with a soft and compassionate heart, Father Vasyl showed amazing resilience, courage and uncompromisingness when there was a concern about important things  –  his faith in God, Church and parishioners. He never left his faithful, he never renounced the Greco-Catholic faith, he despised threats because, as he used to say, “I know what I will die for.” He consciously accepted his arrest, exile, and, eventually, his martyr’s death.

Born in a family respected among the villagers (Father Vasyl`s father was the wojt) and the boy was raised well and obtained a good education. While he was studying at the Lviv University in Theology Faculty, he attended the Third Velehrad Congress. The young student became enamored of the idea of the union of churches towards which Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky was striving. The young man dreamed to become a genuine apostle of Christ, sacrificial and selfless…

Already in the first month of the 26-year-old priest’s ministry in the village of Hlyniany, he was noticed as the person with excellent pastoral and organizational skills. In 1915, Father Lonchyna was transferred to St. Paraskeva Church and the daughter church of St. Nicholas in Lviv,  where he labored until his arrest in 1945 (first as vicar, later as a pastor). 

Before long the priest faced a serious challenge:  he was suspected in “russophilism” and the Austrian government sent him to Thalerhof  (one of the most terrible concentration camps  of   the  20th Century;  there, in a picturesque area at the foot of the Alps, the imprisoned died from cruelty, hunger, and inhumane conditions).Who knows if Father Lonchyna would come back if the protohegumen of the Basilian Fathers had not interfered. After almost two years of imprisonment, the priest returned again to his family and parishioners. Being thankful to God for salvation, the shepherd returned to work with zeal. At the parish, he founded fellowships and fraternities, which developed successfully, in particular, The Apostolate of Prayer, the Fraternity of St. Nicholas, the Fraternity of Good Death (the first one in Lviv), and the Marian Sisterhood. In addition to that, Father Vasyl during a long period of time was head of the “Cantors’ Mutual Help” fellowship, since  he understood very well the value of the art of cantorship in the preservation of the Ukrainian tradition of liturgical singing. On the whole, Father Vasyl’s activity was multifaceted and active, and so his part in Theological Scientific Society should be mentioned here. 

Father Vasyl was not only a wise and good spiritual father for his flock, but also a wonderfully practical man. St. Nicholas church was not in its best condition, so the pastor, together with the help of his faithful (mostly poor residents of Zhovkva and Krakow suburbs), did not only rebuild his church:  thanks to his efforts the exterior of  the church was decorated by the work of the famous painter Petro Kholodny. 

Despite his comprehensive and fruitful activity, Father Lonchyna remained very mild and modest in everyday life. His daughter recalled: “Daddy was gentle, calm, noble, and very much loved by all. He always prayed with me before bed, teaching me to be good, kind, obedient, and to obey the elders…” 

The priest`s calm and sincere nature did not impede him to stand for his principles, for in such cases he was completely imperturbable and unbreakable. For example, in the so called “language case” in 1930 when he and two other priests were sued for daring to use the Ukrainian language in correspondence with the government. The priests managed to win the case, which was a great rarity at that time. 

Father Vasyl showed indomitable character in those difficult times when Soviet soldiers occupied Galicia and started the first persecutions of the Ukrainian Church. He did not have any illusions about the new government and said to his family that the priesthood will be in relative safety as long as Metropolitan Sheptytsky lives. The pastor, as his faithful, understood well the danger. More than once parishioners tried to convince the priest to leave the region. He invariably answered, saying that he will remain with his congregation until the end, and will not betray his vow. 

They began to call the priest in for questioning. One day when he was at the district prosecutor’s office, he heard a loud noise behind the door – it was indignant parishioners come to free their priest. The enraged prosecutor promised to release him. Amazed by the father`s authority among those people, the prosecutor tried to persuade Father to enter the service of the new government. He asked the priest does he not fear imprisonment and death… No, Father Lonchyna was not afraid, because “he knew what he will die for”. This whole story ended with the wife of that same prosecutor (who  really  did release him) bringing her child to Father Vasyl to be baptized. Obviously, they decided that such priest can be trusted. 

But the government didn’t leave Father Vasyl in peace, and he continued to be called in for  questioning. Fr. Havryil Kostelnyk who was infamous for his“reunification” activities, tried  to convince Father Vasyl to  transfer to Orthodoxy. Finally, on October 22, 1945, they arrested the unbreakable  priest. The “socially dangerous priest” was accused of many “sins,” such as being “a man of trust” during the German occupation (as the Ukrainian Central Committee called community representatives who protected their community’s interests).  Being in that position, Father Lonchyna especially cared for poor families in need of help. 

Father was convicted to ten years in prison. The priest was sent to Donetsk region in Novobutovka’s mine in the Makiyivka district where there were truly inhumane conditions: exhausting work, hunger, and dysentery, since the prisoners often ate straight from trash cans. And in all this horror, Father Vasyl preserved his human dignity and faith. He drew his strength from prayer. This made an impression on the prisoners: when they were unable to think about anything else other than finding something to eat, they saw someone next to them calmly, praying over a crumb of the daily ration and consuming it nobly as is from God’s hand. They often saw the priest  as he sat tired on a bench,  and having humbly bowed his head, spoke something to the Lord… 

In the camp Father lost his health very quickly. But even in this state the government did not leave the nearly powerless priest in peace. They again started to call him for questioning. During one such interrogation he was beaten so hard that he could not stand on his feet again. In his 60th year of life, on the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, November 21, 1946, Father Lonchyna departed into eternity. Another wonderful person passed away, a person who knew how to love God and people and be faithful to the ideals of his own faith up until his last breath.

*“A Polish senior civil administrative officer and the highest representative of the government of a rural gmina, i.e., of a commune (gmina) comprising only villages... The word wójt is derived from Latin  advocatus  via German Vogt.” –Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

A Thank You Letter from Mother Cecilia

Dear friends and benefactors,

Thank you for your incredible support of our monastic life! At our Bridegroom's Banquet on Saturday, November 4 (and in donations given remotely), we raised over $135,000, $100,000 of which will be matched! These funds will allow us to continue our monastic life and to save for our next building project, which may be more poustinias or an addition to the monastery building. We continue to discern the next step.

As I shared at the end of the banquet, your support is incredibly important to us, because there are few things that we do that actually bring in any income. And, as I said, the things that we do don't seem like much of anything to the world. But you believe. You believe that our life of prayer is enough. You believe that just being and being loved by God are enough. And your support allows us to continue to do this and to be an example of this to you and to others. So thank you!

The banquet was a beautiful event! Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB, was our first monastic Emcee, and he shared some beautiful thoughts and stories about how people are encouraged simply by the knowledge that monks and nuns exist and are praying. Our video on obedience was probably the most beautiful yet of our videos. And for the first time, we nuns were the "entertainment," answering questions submitted by our guests and presented by Fr. Boniface. The questions ranged from topics such as "What saints have personally impacted you?" to "What's your favorite junk food?" Everyone enjoyed some laughs as our minds blanked and we passed the mic off to our sisters! We also just enjoyed being with 300 wonderful people, who are just some of those who make our monastic life possible.

Being hegumena for the first time at our banquet gives me an even greater appreciation for all the ways that you support us: financially, with your time and talent, and through your prayers!

God bless you! And know that you are in our hearts and prayers!

Mother Cecilia

Photos from the Bridegroom's Banquet can be found here